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Leg 12: VMMC Macau to VDSR Siem Reap

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I was beginning to think I had made a really rash decision…

 

It wouldn’t be the first time I’d agreed to something that I would kick myself for later, even if I was going to get a certificate and a photo that I could shock my Instagram and Facebook friends with for years to come… that is, if I could walk forward 2 paces. So far, the cajoling of the ‘Jump Master’ the huffing and tutting from those in the queue behind me were not having the desired effect.

 

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On a beautiful Macau morning with the temperature already into the high 20’s, the slight breeze at 233 meters did nothing to cool the perspiration that was already starting to make my hair stick to the side of my face. Back in my early 30s, I still had my childhood fear of heights, so I’d learned to rock climb in the hope that I could conquer it, and in the most part it had worked, I was pretty good at it, but that didn’t apply to parachuting (what’s the point in jumping out of a perfectly sound airplane?), and it certainly didn’t apply to bungee jumping!

 

The Jump Master was beginning to lose patience with me, and my thoughts wandered to the 3500 HK$ I’d forked out for this ‘unmissable opportunity’. I’ll be damned if I was going to let it get the better of me. “OK, get me out of here before I change my mind” I said to no one in particular as I took a deep breath and went over the edge.

 

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By the time I’d stopped bouncing and was pulled back in, I’d decided that I’d never be repeating that ridiculous show of courage, and that the only way I would be flying through the air whilst still drawing breath would be with at least 2 wings and a propeller.

 

Rather than watch me jump from the top of the tower, Tim was waiting for me when I came out the lift in the basement lobby.  Eagerly, he pulled out his mobile and showed me a photo he had taken “for posterity”. At that distance, I was a tiny red and black dot, but it’s the thought that counts. Once I had calmed down, and proved to him that I could stand without feeling dizzy, he handed over the baton and we hailed a taxi to take him back to the airport for his flight home.  My first leg of the ATWC7 had, at last, begun!

 

Philippe, the rather eccentric Frenchman that usually provides most of my flying jobs outside the UK, had arranged for me to ferry an old Dakota across from Macau to Hainan Island where I would collect a small group of passengers, and fly on to Cambodia the following day. In the meantime, I had a whole afternoon to kill, so having waved Tim goodbye, I thought I should get a better look at this beautiful city on the southern fringes of China. What better way than to see it from the air, I thought to myself, but where to get a sightseeing flight at short notice? Good old Google provided a few options, over in Hong Kong, but I needed to be more local so I picked out a General Aviation outfit which ran from a hangar on the far side of Macau airport. Their rather beaten up C172 was already booked out for a flying lesson that afternoon, but they had an almost brand-new microlight which they would hire out to me for an hour, as long as it was for cash and no questions asked. Parting the blinds in the office window and peering out onto the tarmac, I could see the single seat microlight, which indeed did look like it had just emerged from the factory, so pulling out my purse I handed over what to me seemed like an average bar bill at the last Mutley’s Hangar Christmas party, and grabbed the keys and paperwork.

 

The city of Macau covers less than 30 square kilometres but is considered Asia’s most well-known gambling destination… so Tim had told me. The Portuguese influence is still evident in the buildings, street names, and cuisine. A daily reminder that it was ruled for almost 400 years by Portugal before being handed back to China in 1999. It sits across the water from the airport with much of the traffic using the two bridges that span the Outer Harbour.

 

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The silver domed Macau Science Centre, and the Kun Lum statue can be seen from the air, overlooking the harbour.

 

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From the air, the tower looks far less imposing than it did this morning!

 

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Returning across the water towards Macau airport, much of the land below is given over to golf courses and country clubs for the rich and famous.

 

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The very impressive Macau Airport

 

Back at the GA office, I handed back the keys to the guy behind the desk, and then headed back to my hotel for a bath and a much-needed call home to inform my husband that he was no longer the only one in the family to jump from a great height with nothing but a rubber band to stop you from going head first into concrete. I could really do with an early night given that my alarm was set for 3:30am local.

 

Even in the early hours of the morning, Macau airport is alive and bustling, so there was little delay in getting the latest weather report, and getting across to the stand where the DC3, and my co-pilot were waiting for me.

 

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It had been a while since I had flown a tail-dragger, and this aircraft was obviously ‘vintage’ so a walk-around was essential. Happily, I found her to be in very good shape for one of her years, and accumulated hours in the clouds. My co-pilot was Samnang (meaning ‘Lucky’), a Cambodian guy in his early 50’s by my estimation, and a man of few words… of English. I managed to figure out that he ran this route from Macau to Siem Reap quite regularly with another ‘pilot’ who had been detained the previous week for impersonating a Buddhist Monk in Phnom Penh, hence my last-minute assignment on this trip. Samnang was not at all happy that a woman was in the left seat, nor was he convinced that I would be able to complete the trip right through to Cambodia. I tried to understand his Khmer ramblings but gave up in the end; I’d call Philippe as soon as I go to the hotel and find out what the deal was.

 

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Our flight would take us out to the East for a quick fly-past Hong Kong (my idea, but Samnang either didn’t understand, or didn’t care), before heading west to Hainan. We’d be following the planned nav aids and hopefully I would have ‘Lucky’ out of my hair and be in the hotel pool by mid-afternoon. Result!

 

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An early morning taxi

 

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Taking off from runway 34

 

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Climbing out from Macau airport

 

We headed out across the Zhujiang River Estuary passing Chek Lap Kok in the distance before flying over Victoria Harbour and Kowloon.

 

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The new airport is in the distance on our port side

 

 Although the famous checkerboard was still preserved on the hill overlooking the old airport site, I hadn’t managed to see Hong Kong from the air for several years, and it was a shock to see how much it had changed.

 

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Gone was the old KaiTak airport and in its place, a huge long cruise liner terminal with its impressive architecture and well-heeled clients.

 

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There were glimpses of what was the old runway, and taxiway but essentially, one of the most well-known landmarks in Hong Kong was no longer. I leaned as far forward in my seat as the restraints would allow to get a last look at the harbour, then turned West to return to our planned route, and the next waypoint.

 

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Although vintage, the DC3 is great to fly

 

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Heading west

 

The crossing to Hainan was uneventful as I’d hoped; let’s face it, problems in a vintage aircraft with a co-pilot who spoke little English, is something I would rather not have to deal with; but ‘Lucky’ lived up to his name and we made contact with ATC at Sanya Phoenix International airport, and were able to land without delay.

 

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Approaching ZJSY

 

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Parked up at Phoenix

 

Shutting down the DC3, I hoped my co-pilot might be in a better mood the next day or this was going to be a very long trip, but fate was to intervene, and after bidding me farewell and muttering something about me having a pleasant visit to Cambodia, he disappeared into the terminal.

 

Totally bemused, I pulled out my mobile as soon as I was in the taxi to my hotel and dialled Philippe’s number. “Mon amie!”, he exclaimed as he picked up, “Tu es arrivee a temps”. “Hi Philippe. Yes, on time, and surprisingly unscathed given that I’ve been scratching my head since I left Macau! Will I be flying tomorrow or not?” I ventured. "Ah, Oui, we have a bit of a problem with your passengers tomorrow” he began. “They are Monks on a pilgrimage to Cambodia and they must have a man at the controls”. I was speechless for a moment, and although a bit irritated, I did understand that in some parts of the world, it would be unpardonable for me to captain the flight. “So, what am I to do?” I asked, “hitch-hike to Cambodia?” “Non, mon amie” he reassured me, “I have something more exciting planned for you! You will have a little detour and an extra day in Vietnam, but I will get you to Siem Reap, I promise”.

 

OK… I’m not sure that any amount of excitement could top parting with 3500 HK$ to threw myself off a 63-floor building, but Philippe was a resourceful guy, and I knew he would like to keep my positive Karma ‘pot’ topped up. “You will be taking a group of sky divers across to the Hang Song Doong caves, dropping them off, and then continuing to Siem Reap where another crew will take the Sherpa back to Vietnam.”

 

It sounded like Philippe had it all figured out, and would email the details to me within the hour so as long as I got to Siem Reap in time to pass on the baton, all was good. I was, I had to admit, really buzzing about the chance to be part of a sky-diving crew, even though I wouldn’t dare think of jumping myself. I Googled the Hang Song Doon and could immediately see why it drew so many travellers to this part of the world.

 

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Hang Song Doon is the largest cave in the world

 

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Stretching more than 3 miles the cave is over 200m deep, and has its own weather system

 

It was way too early to dial home as I was 8 hours ahead of the UK, so time for some R&R by the pool and I’d call my husband and Joe later before dinner. Joe was on voice mail when I called, and although I jokingly told him the Giza fuel card would get a fair slamming from my extra day in Vietnam, it was unlikely to make much of a dent in the Hangar finances, given that a veritable banquet of food cost about the same as your average Starbucks coffee. Hopefully he would be able to get word to Andrew that I would be a day late arriving in Siem Reap, but if not, I was sure he would take advantage of the fantastic scenery and tourist spots, as I would have done.

 

Philippe was true to his word, everything was sorted and I arrived at the airport bright and early to meet the other pilot, Brian (nope, not our ‘Needles’, but almost as charming), and get time to familiarise myself with the Shorts 330. Brian hailed from Aberdeen but had spent most of his time over the last 5 years running parachute jumpers into difficult to reach areas of interest in Vietnam and Laos. His ex-Air Ecosse aircraft had still not been repainted in the 5 years since he had bought and restored it to its former glory. No one cared about trivial things like labels in this part of the world. We would be heading from Sanya to Vinh in Vietnam for an overnight stop before heading out to the Hang Song Doong area, dropping our human cargo from 12 thousand feet, and then heading for DaNang for a quick fuel stop before our final leg to Siem Reap.

 

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Our flight plan from Phoenix to Siem Reap

 

Our sky jumpers were from various parts of the globe; Sweden, Argentina, Japan, Australia, and a couple from Canada who were on their third trip in as many years. The cargo load was quite heavy, consisting of fuel, passengers, their jump gear, and the bare minimum of personal items to last for 3 days in the middle of nowhere until they were collected and transported back to their pick-up point. Brian had a resident ‘load master’ called Fergus who would make sure that everyone was buckled in and the cargo was stowed. He would also be in charge of orchestrating the ‘drop off’ when we came close to the caves.

 

“We’re taking off to the East but we’ll to a 180 and head back West as I want to show you the GuanYin monument on our way over to Vinh”, Brian explained during his passenger briefing, “Its only about 5 miles down the coast so keep your eyes peeled out the right side.” There was immediate excitement amongst our passengers, and I was glad for once that I was sat in the right seat as I would get a great view. 

 

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ZJSY take off

 

Brian handled the take off, and climbed conservatively so that we’d see the impressive monument before we gained too much altitude and the morning haze obscured our view. The Guanyin of Nanshan is a 108-metre-high statue set at the end of a jetty and has 3 aspects: one faces inland and the other two face the South China Sea.

 

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Our flight would be almost entirely over water on a heading which would take us pretty much direct to Vinh, so Brian handed control over to me once we were at our assigned altitude, and established on the heading then disappeared off into the cabin to be his sociable self and check on our passengers. I’d never been at the controls of a Sherpa, and it was more like driving a bus than I’d anticipated, but the cockpit was well laid out, and the GPS was a godsend as I had no idea how we would have pinpointed the drop off zone without it. With the excited banter from the cabin, and Brian’s non-stop Scottish humour, the 2-hour flight to Vinh went by before I’d got bored of seeing just blue sky and sea. Brian came back to the cockpit and offered to do the radios, for which I was grateful, not only because I could get more stick time, but because the accents of the ATC were getting more and more unintelligible.

 

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Turning towards Vinh

 

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The Vinh approach 

 

Phu Vinh International airport is a mixed military/civil airport which now handles over 1 million people a year on both international and domestic routes. The 3700-ft. runway was a little short for our Sherpa if we were pushing our MTOW but much of our weight would be ‘exiting’ less than 80nm out of Vinh, and our lighter load would extend our remaining fuel past the maximum 600nm of a fully loaded aircraft. Brian was clearly someone who knew his aircraft well, and was intent on getting as much fuel as he could here as the cost was much better than in DaNang. “We’ll be fine getting off the ground” he said reassuringly, “we’ll top up at DaNang if needs be”.

 

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Our Shorts 330 is perfect for skydiving

 

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Taking off from VVVH

 

Our passengers needed plenty of time to get themselves sorted and ready for the jump so they started checking their gear and going over the order they would exit the aircraft. Our Sherpa had a rear loading ramp which was perfect for the drop and we had enough time to get to 12,500 feet above sea level which would give the jumpers about a minute before having to open their parachutes. The team on the ground was already waiting to retrieve the jumpers when they arrived, so all was going to plan so far. Brian gave Fergus our estimated time of arrival at the drop off point and then we made sure everything in the cockpit and cabin was safely stowed and locked away so it didn’t go flying out the back too. Joe would never forgive me if the baton was to be sucked out at 12,000 feet…

 

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Approaching our drop zone

 

The rush of air when the loading ramp went down made it difficult to hear Brian at all, but he gave me the thumbs up and I pressed the switch that would change the jump light in the back from red to green. As soon as the last jumper had exited, we closed the ramp and turned south. Brian’s fuel calculations, helped by the lighter load and an unexpected tailwind, became evident as we approached DaNang, so Brian cancelled our landing request and ATC updated our plan to take us directly to Siem Reap. In some parts of the world, changing a plan on a whim might lead to all sorts of problems, but surprisingly, in Vietnam, they didn’t seem to care, which was great news for us as we could shorten our journey by at least an hour.

 

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Diverting from DaNang to Siem Reap

 

As the sun started to get closer to the horizon, a night landing was becoming more likely. The accent of the controller at Siem Reap ATC was not the best, and we had to repeat the instructions 3 times more before Brian and I were agreed we had understood the same thing. The sooner we were on the ground and at the stand, the safer I would feel.

 

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The beautiful Cambodian sunsets are stunning

 

 

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Preparing for descent

 

The beautiful reds and golds of the setting sun had been replaced by darkness and pinpricks of light in the distance as we flew over the Pnom Kulen National park, but thankfully our trusty GPS had us on track to join the downwind for Runway 05.

 

Our Approach controller’s accent, however, was nothing compared to the tower controller who seemed more interested in an A320 which had just landed ahead of us.

 

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On final

 

Once again Brian let me take control for the landing, and although there was a slight crosswind, we were down and decelerating quickly, thanks to the Sherpa’s efficient brakes, which was fortuitous as we had just enough time to exit the runway before the backtracking Airbus had caught up with us. I looked at Brian who was similarly speechless at the colourful language between the furious Airbus Captain and the less than eloquent tower controller in response to the situation.

 

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We're definitely not in the mood to play 'Chicken' with an A320

 

“Welcome to Cambodia!” Brian muttered as we taxied to our parking spot. It had been a memorable few days, and although I was sad that this part of the journey was complete, I couldn’t wait to freshen up at my hotel and plan my sightseeing for the following day. There was one more task to do, and that was to get the baton safely to Andrew. I grabbed my flight case and started packing up my maps and charts. The baton was safe and sound in the side pocket next to a rather squashed and mostly melted Mars Bar (how had that got in there??)

 

Wiping the chocolate and caramel off the baton, I flicked  on my mobile and immediately got a text message from Andrew to say that he was already in the Airport hotel bar and that I should drop in as soon as I arrived. I replied that mine was a large ‘Jack’ with ice, and that I would be there shortly.

 

Brian and Fergus had some paperwork to complete for the following day so once in the terminal, I bade them safe travels, and got the courtesy bus to the hotel. The slightly sticky baton was safely in the hands of Andrew before the ice had even melted...

 

 

Credits:

Sim: FSX Acceleration

Planning: Plan-G by Tim Arnott (freeware and fabulous)

Scenery: Thai Creations/A_A Sceneries Macau (payware, but worth every penny!)

Aircraft: 1- FSX default DC3

       2 - Shorts 330cargo by Jean-Pierre Brisard, Barry Blaisdell and Bob May Premier Aircraft Design (freeware)

Edited by hlminx
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That's the way to push us further along and have fun while your at it. A

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Great PIREP aircraft and pics Steph, :thum: Philippe always comes through for you, I gather getting his number is as hard as getting your chocolate cake recipe.:P

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Wow! Superb PIREP Steph, you put us all to shame :D

 

I was captivated by the great narrative and pictures, well done for getting the baton (ex chocolate and caramel) to Siem Reap.

 

Watch your step with Andrew, he has a certain reputation with the ladies! :secret: 

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Great PIREP Steph.

 

Rather you than me with the bungee jump.

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Steph, you have bigger cajones than I to jump off of a building relying on a rubber band attached to your ankles. Cray cray "pastime" imo.

 

Sweet PIREP, with terrific local information liberally frosted all over it, and sprinkles of delightfull details (ATC accents...always wondered how that would be in heavily 'unfamiliar accented' regions, and I feel like you probably Nailed it :D )...a very good read.

 

:icon_goodpost:

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Thanks for the kind comments everyone :)

It was great to get back into flying after a while away, and the ATWC is a great way to do it.

 

Yup.. absolutely no chance if me ever bunjee jumping ever again :yikes:

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As I was reading this last post I saw on the news an 80 year old fella jumping off the same tower for his birthday, bless his old bones.:P I should do it too, might straighten my back.:D 

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On 06/10/2017 at 00:02, brett said:

As I was reading this last post I saw on the news an 80 year old fella jumping off the same tower for his birthday, bless his old bones.:P I should do it too, might straighten my back.:D 

 

If you can just 'hang' off something it works wonders. In the UK we have 'Open' stairs in houses and i used to hang upside down on mine. Did wonders for my spine ;-)

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